Will Blockchain Technology make Kenya’s Election Free and Fair?

Aderonke Ajibade
20% Complete
 25-Aug-2018

Election all over the world is a very sensitive issue. This is an exercise that determines the peace and growth of any nation hence its importance. Kenya held one of Africa’s most expensive elections in 2017, with its electoral body using more than $530 million to conduct the polls. However allegations of tampering and hacking, voter boycotts, and violence trailed the voting process. After the electoral irregularities of 2007 and 2013, the crisis further solidified mistrust of the electoral commission. The supreme court eventually annulled the August 2017 presidential results and ordered a new election in October.

After much accusation of irregularities in election figures, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in Kenya is planning to look into blockchain technologies. This, they believe will allow candidates to “securely access” real-time results, hence improving transparency and easing public suspicion.

According to IEBC, the use of blockchain in the 2022 elections will make the polls a lot more safe while enabling voters to solidify their ballots on the net. Blockchain would deliver complete trust and self confidence among the voters as the dispersed ledger technological know-how depends on a network of nodes that frequently synchronize information earning hacking and breach of safety pretty much not possible.

What is Blockchain technology?

Blockchain   is mostly known for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies  and is currently one of the most talked  about technologies.

A block is the ‘current’ part of a blockchain, which records some or all of the recent transactions. Once completed, a block goes into the blockchain as a permanent database. Each time a block gets completed, a new one is generated.

A blockchain is a digitized, decentralized, public ledger of all cryptocurrency transactions. Constantly growing as ‘completed’ blocks (the most recent transactions) are recorded and added to it in chronological order, it allows market participants to keep track of digital currency transactions without central recordkeeping. Each node (a computer connected to the network) gets a copy of the blockchain, which is downloaded automatically.

Blockchain technology covers many different sectors with the belief that almost every facet of life, from finance, technology, economics, health care, smart contracts, personal identification and sociology, can be disrupted by this decentralized force.

The interest in blockchain technology taking over from traditional election methods has potential advantages due to the big technological upgrade from how elections are currently held. Many national elections still take place using a paper-based system, leaving open huge holes for security breaches, fraud, and corruption.

Elections have been subject to scrutiny and corruption for so long that many in the tech space, as well as electoral committees are viewing blockchain as the future of fair elections.

Different countries and organizations have begun experimenting with the immutable distributed ledger that offers transparency and security. In sierra leone technology had not been directly used to tally the votes, rather it was run alongside the normal process as a demonstration of how the election could be conducted using blockchain technology. A little smaller in scale, but equally important, polls closed in West Virginia’s primary election on May 8 seeing the completion of the first government-run, blockchain-supported vote in US history. This was however not a full blockchain election, as it was only available to a select group of voters, such as military members. However, the response was positive as experimenting with the use of blockchain in voting.

Benefits

In the current climate of questioning the integrity of election processes, the potential of blockchain technology to radically change traditional voting systems is enormous. The fact that major corporations, banks, and now governments both in terms of regulation, and for elections are looking deeply into the blockchain means that there is a big future building for it. If it can be shown to be a success in electing a country’s leader, helping enact democratic needs and ensuring that democracy is enacted fairly, then there’s not much else that can stop it.

Elections are the heart of democracy, hence it must be transparent, free and fair.  Security is also key in fair elections as each vote needs to be guarded and respected, which is often not the case. Blockchain provides a heightened level of security. Blockchain offers an updated system for voters that could potentially fix concerns such as security, breaches, fraud and corruption.

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Its traditional assets, such as its transparency, allow for votes to be followed, counted, and correlated by many different sources while still maintaining the privacy of the voters due to the anonymous transactions along the blockchain.

Using blockchain technology, you can make sure that those who are voting are who they say they are and are legally allowed to vote. Using blockchain technology makes voting easy and less stressful. Anyone who knows how to use a cell phone can understand the technology required for voting.

Will the blockchain technology help Kenya’s Election?

In Kenya there are still a lot of questions about how IEBC will design and protect the system and handle voter anonymity. Critics also say Kenya’s election challenges are more about institutional dysfunction and lack of leadership. The current IEBC chief executive has been suspended, three commissioners resigned in April, and another fled the country last October after receiving threats. Many believe the problem has to do with humans and until there is a change in most officials character and approach to election there can’t be real change.

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Kenya invested in biometric voter registration in 2013, yet the system has continuously failed both during voting and tallying exercises. Voter apathy was also evident in the repeat October polls in 2017, with only a third of 19.6 million eligible voters casting a ballot, compared to 15 million in August.

Throwing technological experiments at the problem isn’t the way to solve it, says Nanjala Nyabola, a political analyst and author of the forthcoming Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics about how the internet is transforming politics in Africa. The political leadership in Kenya only wants to “waste” money, she says not deal with the core “human” issues of integrity and ethics. “Technology can only enhance or exacerbate whatever is already there,” she told Quartz, drawing on the example of the Gambia, which ousted its dictator using a low-tech system of color-coded marbles. “Technology can’t make a proper election. You can’t manufacture public trust using technology.”

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